Do the Math

Does your community have volunteers? Ever added up the value of their work? Kitsap County does.

At last night’s annual SAR banquet, county officials presented a document showing that MathSearch and Rescue volunteers had contributed more than $400,000 worth of time on services in the county, and another $243,000 helping neighboring counties.

They added up the total hours worked, and assigned a typical but conservative salary to those hours. Then they did the math. It’s amazing what volunteers do for their community, and we’re just SAR. Think of all the other volunteer groups with their varied interests and what we all bring to the places we live. It’s got to be in the millions of dollars just in Kitsap County alone.

Also at the banquet I had the pleasure of hearing some great remarks from Bainbridge Island, WA Police Chief Matthew Hamner about the value of volunteerism.

Chief Michael Hamner (From the BIPD Web Site)

The Chief spoke not of financial benefit, but benefit to others. Human benefits. The ones that really count. He spoke of the solace received by the family of a man for whom we’d searched. The outcome wasn’t what anyone had hoped for, but the family took comfort in knowing that so many in the community were trying to help.

SAR members don’t volunteer for the adoration, but if you’re going to put out that much effort it’s nice to know it’s noticed and appreciated. The staff at Kitsap County DEM, the Sheriff’s Office and BIPD have a history of taking care of their volunteers. Last night’s banquet was one example, but they do it every day. They say thank you at the end of each mission, and when we have a need for something they do their best to help fill it.

I’m personally lucky to have bought a house and decided to live in a county where local government behaves so honorably and professionally.

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Put the Bell on Bob

When new people come to the K9 SAR world, they’re all about having their dog search. That’s actually not the hard part. Dogs search for things all the time.

The trick, at least with off-lead air scent work, is teaching the dog what to do when it finds the subject. It File Jan 25, 10 09 43 AMhas to go back, get the handler, give a specific indication that means “found ’em,” and then lead the handler back to the subject.

Ruger does that just fine, so long as he knows where I am. Ruger is a little more thoughtful than either Sierra or Magnum (my first two dogs). When he finds someone he gently tags them with his paw (very cute, I’m told), turns, goes about 20 feet and stops. Subjects are universally convinced he’s listening for me to come crashing through the bush. They report he’s looking for me, and not fooling around.

To an evaluator, that might look like NOT coming back to get me. The solution? Bell on Bob.

Now that Ruger can hear me, he has no trouble coming back and letting me know “found ’em.” He comes screaming up, veers a little to my left, makes the beginning of a U-turn, drops his butt into a momentary sit right in front of me and then is off to the races before I can say “show me.”

I am hopeful that as Ruger gains experience, and some confidence that I’m not going to leave him, I’ll be able to dispense with the bell. I feel a little like Red Buttons in the Longest Day, hanging from the church tower with the bell going “ding-dong, ding-dong” in his head. But it works.

Ahhh, What’s up, Dog?

Magnum Up
Magnum learning to work “up.” He’s headed to check the pipe on the side of the building to see if there’s an odor source behind it.

“No, really. I mean what’s ‘up?'” Magnum confessed one day during his early training. We were chatting about how he uses his nose to find people, and he admitted he wasn’t sure what “up” meant.


I told him I admired his courage for admitting a problem, and it wouldn’t require 12 steps to fix.

Dogs don’t really have a concept of up (or down, or beneath.) Their world is what they smell, modified by their lesser sense of vision. If they smell something they can’t see, it can confuse and frustrate them. We fix that by hiding subjects (or cadaver source) well above ground level, and gently directing the dog’s attention “up.” Once a dog learns the concept, it doesn’t need perpetual reinforcement. It’s kinda like riding a bicycle.

The same is true for water or snow searches. The dog has to learn that subjects can be under water or buried in snow.

However, dogs aren’t the only ones that need to be taught to look up.

I once missed spotting a missing subject at night, even though Magnum had taken me to the edge of a steep ravine and been very animated. I could read Magnum well, and was totally sure the subject was at the bottom of the ravine. We hoped he was alive, and had merely fallen.  I called Mountain Rescue to go down.

By the time the climbers arrived it was daylight.  They could easily see the poor man had taken his own life by hanging. His remains were hanging from a tree just off the lip of the ravine, exactly where Magnum had alerted. I had such focus on seeing the bottom of the ravine I didn’t look up, or out.  I’d probably swept my flashlight just underneath his feet. I was embarrassed, and greatly relieved it was trained searchers who found him and not a family member or other hiker.

Now, Magnum and I both remember to look up on searches.

What? Me Confused?

As many of you know, I’ve not only taken the leap to become an author, I’m doing something not many other rookie authors have done. I’m writing a spectrum of books for all ages, but with the same characters. Children will fall asleep listening to Grandpa read Sierra Becomes a Search Dog. When they learn to read for themselves they will hopefully enjoy the chapter book Bryce Bumps His Head (working title).  Then, when they’re teens, the darker novel Digger will go into the work of cadaver dogs and catching serial killers.FBbanner2 (2)

Although I’m told that’s a great marketing scheme, it’s also confusing as heck. And you know what? The darned childrens books are more confusing that the murder mystery. I’m completely flummoxed writing a book for…..four-year-olds.

My artist, Taillefer Long, is saving my bacon. For example, we ended up adding one of the best scenes in the book to save an error I made. Instead of merely fixing the error, we turned it into a positive. I let a friend glance at the book, and saw the delight on her face when she got to the page with the “fix.” She wasn’t aware of the drama about that page, so her reaction was incredibly valuable to me.

I hope that when you read Sierra Becomes a Search Dog you’ll let me know your favorite scene. We’ll see if it’s the one that ended up in the book only because of my bonehead mistake.

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Dogs Don’t Worry

Life as an author is overwhelmingly good. Although the work requires commitment and discipline, there is also great flexibility. If I go on a SAR mission during the day, I can write in the evening. That alone validates leaving a great job to try my hand at writing.

Every good thing has downside, though, and I’m learning about THE downside for authors. Last week I sent the manuscript for “Digger” (my novel for grown-ups) to my book shepherd. She’s very busy, and I’d be stunned if she’s had time to look at it already. Despite that, I’m biting my nails waiting to hear what she thinks.160114 Magnum

  • Confusing plot or chapters out of order?
  • Are my side plots about interesting searches good context and entertaining reading, or just unsatisfying rabbit-trails?
  • How do I handle dialogue? I think pretty well, but I know exactly what I mean. Will readers be able to follow a conversation?

My book shepherd warned me that I was at a stage where all authors overthink their books. I needed to send it off to her and just relax for awhile. I’ll see it again after the editor has done her work.

Magnum seems to be the one taking that advice.  He’s just discovered a new chair in our family room, and is chillin’ the way I ought to be.

I think the upholstery goes with his coat pretty well, don’t you?

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Skill Renewal

We work so hard to advance ourselves and our skills that it’s easy to leave the basics behind.

The weekend my county held basic field training for entry-level SAR personnel and those moving up to leadership positions. Everyone helps out, including old dogs, er, dog handlers, like me.

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The old and the new.

During this exercise I had the joy of turning back the clock and using the old fashioned X-Y system for plotting points on a map. The map has four corners (A/B/C/D) which are used as reference points.  A ruler divided into tenths of an inch is used to measure over and then up/down from the closest corner.  A location in the upper left region of a map might be designated A2337.  That’s 2.3 inches to the right, and 3.7 inches down. It’s not as precise as the newer GPSs, if you’re trying to find someone it’ll get you within hollering range.

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“Remember to switch sides before your next turn so one arm doesn’t end up longer than the other!”


At the end of the weekend, I got to refresh another skill: helping carry a (simulated) patient out of the field in a litter.  My arms are slowly returning to their previous length, and by about Wednesday all will be well again.

All of the new SAR personnel did exceptionally well, and the new team leaders and field leaders were indeed leaders, not merely managers. If anybody in my family goes missing, these are the people I want looking for them.

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Bob! Where ya been?

Yes, it’s been a little quiet here.  I come to the world of authorship with a bias that most don’t have.

To call yourself an author, you gotta write.  As a working daily journalist, I saw many people who called themselves “authors” who had the tweed jacket with patches on the sleeves, but hadn’t written a word in weeks.  They were posers.

Conversely, I’ve received very good advice that one can’t wait until the book is written and printed to begin the marketing process.  I certainly want to jump start the sales process, but I refuse to put the tweed jacket before the horse.  (Though I am apparently OK with mixing metaphors.)

The good news is that both my mystery novel “Digger,” and my first childrens book “Sierra Becomes a Search Dog” are written and in the final stages of editing. So plan on seeing more from me in this venue in the days and weeks to come. I’ll write about the journey to truly calling myself an author, along with good information I find about search and rescue.

Stay tuned.